Vengeance is mine

Thus saith the Lord.

It’s a phrase from the Bible that most Christians and probably even many non-Christians recognize. We see many times in the Old Testament instances where the nation of Israel went through a cycle of being in God’s favor, rebelling and then facing the consequences handed down from God. People being held accountable and facing the consequences for their actions is something God definitely has an opinion about. But is God’s opinion on vengeance the same as ours today?

Fast forward to more recent times. During August of 2014 and the following months we found this country in an uproar. A young man in Ferguson Missouri had just been shot by a police officer in what many people around the nation say was a racially – motivated hate murder due to the fact that the young man was unarmed. Protests ensued for many months after that day and most protestors wanted the same thing, vengeance for the killing of Michael Brown.

We tend to react that way a lot. Whether it be shuddering at the sight of ISIS brutally murdering innocent people in the middle east, laughing at Alex Rodriguez getting caught in one of the biggest baseball scandals of my generation, turning our national back on Ray Rice as he was being outcast by the NFL for hitting his wife, or our cries for Justin Bieber to be deported each time he gets arrested. We, like God, also have an opinion on vengeance, but I would suggest it doesn’t exactly line up with God’s views of vengeance.

God from the beginning of time has held his creation accountable for their actions and at times has caused terrible consequences for those who would oppose Him. The Bible is replete with instances where God destroyed entire cities who strayed from His will. God even destroyed the whole world with a flood because of its evil nature. But does God’s stance on vengeance give us the right as His followers to act as his earthly agents of vengeance? I would say not always.

Now, granted there are instances where natural consequences will come about and we may be a part of those natural consequences for someone. But there’s a difference in being a part of God’s plan of restoration to bring all humanity back to Him and seeking out opportunities to flex our spiritual muscle in the form of retribution for those we think are acting in contrary to God’s will.

I would argue that God’s will for His followers is often the opposite of retribution and vengeance,  which is grace and mercy. How often do we shrug it off when someone cuts us off in traffic? How often do we think it’s nice to see people get an appropriate punishment? How much do we hate it when people we think are terrible human beings seem to be living flourishing lives?

It’s human nature to want justice but sometimes justice won’t happen on this side of eternity. We have to be ok with that fact. I’m not always ok with it, and I’m willing to bet many of you reading this aren’t ok with it. We just have to trust that God is just and that we will all be held accountable for the good or bad things we do in this life (Romans 14:12). My challenge to you is can you live with grace and mercy not only on your lips but genuinely in your heart? That’s easier said than done but I believe we would all do well to let God be God and handle the reconciliation of the world and for us to focus on loving each other instead of trying to spiritually put people on trial. So today I ask you, are you a source of grace or ridicule to those around you?

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Segregation and the Disabled Community

I don’t usually post politically motivated content but every once in awhile something strikes a nerve with me and I feel the need to bring it to light. This is one of those times. I often find myself in a tough place of trying to get people who are not like me to see what it’s like to be me. Trying to explain the hardships of life with a disability to a person who does not have one is like trying to explain what gumbo tastes like to someone who has no tastebuds. Most things are best described after the experience. Sadly I don’t always have that luxury with others. So I am often forced to draw parallels between the life I live and experiences that are common to other people around me.

Ok so here’s the meat of my post this morning. Yesterday I came across this sign:

handicap entrance at rear

Most likely you react to this sign in a positive way. It’s intentions are good, but to me this sign is a slap in the face. Why, as a person with a disability, must I use an entrance on the opposite side of a building than my able-bodied counterparts? Why can’t I do things in a similar way to others? That sign seems awfully similar to this one in my opinion:

colored seating sign

Before I go any further, let me say that the struggles African American and other minorities have faced in this country are far greater than any persecution I have ever faced. I am very thankful that I have never been beaten or arrested for being disabled. But I do see some similarities between the things minorities and people with disabilities have encountered in the past and currently still encounter.

Let me give you some more examples throughout history:

1850s to 1890s
The beginning of centralized services in institutions. The idea is to protect people with disabilities from society so people are placed in institutions.

1900s
People with disabilities are segregated. Laws are passed to forbid them from marrying. Warehousing in institutions continues.

1910s
People with disabilities are sterilized so they will not have children. The law allows this. Institutions do nothing about rehabilitation. Dehumanization and stigmatization continue.

1940s
People with disabilities are put to death in Germany – along with Jews, criminals, “politicals”, gypsies, and people said to be antisocial.

(Found @ http://www.ddc.wv.gov/Training/PartnersinPolicymaking/PIPCurriculum/Pages/HistoryofServices.aspx)

Granted, I’m an adaptable person, but I shouldn’t have to adapt as much as I am and in the ways I am.Yes we have come a long way to help people with disabilities, but we need to be doing better than we are doing. Even the Americans with Disabilities Act, which paved the way for people with disabilities to have opportunities they did not have before, has many flaws and needs revision. The ADA as it stands right now allows buildings built before its enactment to remain unchanged and thus inaccessible to those who have a physical disability. This is because owners do not want to pay the money to renovate their facilities. This is still no excuse not to change. The right thing to do is change things regardless of difficulty so that all who want to can use them. Until we get to that point people with disabilities will always be discriminated against.

Give and Take

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(photo via http://myenglishimages.com/)

 

 

Have you ever had that person in your life who only talked to you when they wanted to complain about something? Or the person who only talks to you when they need you to do something for them? We’ve all met those kind of people. Healthy relationships are reciprocal, meaning the relationship cannot be sustained in a healthy way if one person’s needs always trump the others. I like the imagery of a see-saw here. A see-saw with two people on it takes effort from both people in order for it to function like it was designed. If one person stops giving effort then the other person is left stranded while being suspended in the air. Relationships are the same way. If one person is always wanting to take from the relationship more than they give then it most likely will lead to dysfunction and an unhealthy relationship. 

But theres also another type of give and take I have encountered, and that’s perceived give and take. Here’s an example. I, being a disabled person, often have labels put on me before anyone ever says one word to me. People see my inability to walk and one of the first things that come to their mind is the ways they need to help me or, to put it another way, the things I would take from them if an attempt to be friends was made between them and myself. It’s common in relationships. We want to know what the costs of such a relationship will be in order to figure out if the relationship is worth our time or not. But the problem with that is the things we perceive as what the other person will take are sometimes things the other person won’t need from you. Our needs change over time. We go through seasons of life where we have a lot to give and seasons where we need to take a lot from others. The key is to keep the two seasons in balance. This is especially true for the person with a disability. Just because you are limited in what you can do does not mean you need to take more than you give. You have talents. You have unique things you can offer others. Find what those things are and do them. You will make a huge impact for someone I promise. 

Now, let’s apply all that to ministry and disability. In my experience, as well as the experiences of several other people with disabilities I have talked to, churches generally only see the ways they (the church) should minister to people with disabilities. While I do applaud the effort churches make to help people with disabilities, that should only be half of the equation. Ministry between able bodied and people with disabilities can be an equal exchange of give and take if both sides will allow it. Which side of the see-saw are you sitting on? Think about that and how it affects your relationships.

Where Does Your Happiness Come From?

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We’ve all met those kind of people. The one’s who always seem to be in a funk. Chances are that we’ve also been that person ourselves. I myself have struggled throughout my lifetime with being consistently happy. Being a person with a disability I’ve faced the awkward looks, people who are overly eager to help, and people who ignore me altogether. Me being the people oriented yet independent person I am found that these kind of people took away from my happiness. For a long time I based my happiness on what I could do or who I could impress. The problem with that was that I always found things I could not do no matter how much I modified them to fit my abilities. I also found many people who didn’t care what I achieved. For a period of my life I let those people and my personal inabilities to get to me and, if I’m being honest, it sucked. It sucked to live in a way that always sought to live up to other peoples expectations, because I always fell short. It sucked to base my happiness on my own abilities because there was always something I failed at. I always have enjoyed preparing and eating food and at one point in my life considered going to culinary school to become a chef. Even with that kind of passion I realized that my happiness from it always went away. Then several years ago I began praying that God would show me a source of consistent happiness. A few days after starting this prayer in my life I read across John 16:33-“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It was then I realized that my constant source of happiness was Jesus. Jesus gave his followers a gift that will live beyond any earthly disappointment, eternal life, and with that eternal life comes hope, a hope that assures us that all the beat-downs we get in this life will be worth it. When I read that passage in John my mind jumped to Deuteronomy 31:6-“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Because of those passages I’m a happier person. I’m still not consistently happy, but happier than I was before, and I hope to be happier tomorrow than I am today. It’s a process. I hope you will find your source of happiness not in yourself or others, but in something that won’t fade quickly.

I am not a savior

With today’s media driven culture it’s hard not to know peoples opinions whether you want to know their opinion or not. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by messages such as “Vote for _________ because they support __________!” or “You can’t go wrong with _______!”. These kind of messages have me thinking. Is this how we promote churches? How many churches come across as a body of believers who have all the answers?

The conclusion I’ve come to is concerning because I see people being turned away from being a part of Christ’s body because that church believes they have everything right and aren’t willing to even be in the same room with those who believe differently. The religious atmosphere in our culture is one that blares the message “Be like us or get out. Change your life this instant or we won’t have anything to do with you”. Unity and diversity is hard to find in most churches. Matt Haynes, the preacher at the Hillcrest church of Christ in Abilene Texas said it well in a sermon when he said that unity is not uniformity. Unity does not mean that all Christians think and do the same things. Unity means that we choose to be in relationship with someone in spite of the differences we have. I believe many churches hold so tightly to traditions and beliefs that they become exclusive.

Churches would do well to learn from Romans 14:

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” Romans 14:1-6,10

One observation of Christianity as it currently stands is that we as the body of Christ want people to change but we won’t allow time for that process to take place. Christians expectations of the world around them are skewed. We as people who want others to know Christ for the most part aren’t willing to journey with someone long enough to see this process come to fruition. I believe this is because many people take others rejection of the Gospel as a personal bash against them.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that no matter how hard I try I can’t fix or change anyone.I don’t have the power to change someone’s heart but God does. So I pray for people. That’s all I can do when I’m studying the Bible with someone in hopes that it pierces their heart. But to think we as human beings have the power to change someone gives us more power than we really have and that attitude is hurting the church. There’s a big difference in showing someone Scripture and telling someone your interpretation of it. I encourage you to let the Word of God speak for itself without offering your own commentary.

Another thing I’ve noticed is when people read Matthew 13:13-23 (the parable of the sower) they often treat everyone as if each person represents the same type of ground in the parable. This is foolish to me. You can’t expect someone to produce a “good crop” when you’re dealing with a heart filled with thorns.

I encourage you to closely examine your expectations when trying to bring people to Christ. Go into such an encounter with the realization that you can’t fix or change anyone but yourself. Don’t try to do a job that God never intended for you to do. Pray for people to follow God. Love people as God loves you.

Don’t quack like a duck, soar like an eagle

I’ve purposely held off on commenting on the Phil Robertson conundrum in efforts to not give an off-the-cuff response that makes the situation worse. I hope my words prove to be beneficial. Before I go any further I want you as a reader of my work to know that I love and respect all views regardless if I agree with them or not. Having said that, here are my observations regarding this whole situation:

Phil Robertson himself said he is a product of the 60’s. We must look at what has shaped him. We must realize that this man has lived most of his life outside of the Internet era. For most of Phil’s life everyone spoke their mind without much backlash because their voice did not reach as far as it did today. Today it is much easier to make your voice heard. And that doesn’t even take into account that he is now a well known celebrity. Until a couple years ago nobody knew who Phil Robertson was. I’m willing to bet if you put someone similar to Phil, a conservative Christian of almost 70 years old who is accustomed to living a quiet life and who has never lived outside the southern United States, in that kinda spotlight they would say something that would offend someone. But at least that generation stands for something. Sadly that is much more than I can say for my own generation. The era of the relativistic “do as you please/politically correct” mentality is very much upon us.

We must also note that most people that age are set in their ways.Phil Robertson has spent a lifetime developing what he believes. We have no reason to believe he will change his stance. Any attempts to change him or others like him will most likely be futile. We would do well to simply forgive him and move on with our lives. If you don’t like what he stands for then you don’t have to support him. But you also don’t have to bash him either.

People’s tactics in the “homosexuality vs the Bible” debate are mostly wrong. I believe the internet shouting matches are doing nothing. These kind of exchanges need to be between friends who have a high level of mutual respect and love for each other. I believe that is one aspect that could change the whole mood of this conversation. I also feel that is one reason so many people get heated quickly is because neither side feels respected. People react from an emotional place within them when they feel disrespected, and when such emotions dictate a persons response to a situation the situation has potential to quickly become volatile. I think we are also finding that just because your message is louder than your opposition it doesn’t mean you’re winning the battle. Both sides have been loud and it has done nothing to rectify the situation. As a Christian who loves people deeply I feel like we need to use Jesus’ tactic of flipping tables less and more of Jesus’ tactic of “go and sin no more”. We must also realize that not all people react to confrontation the same way. So we cannot confront every person the same way. I’m reminded of Jude verses 22-23 and how it speaks to this notion of dealing with people in various ways: “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear”.

Above all we need to see people first as someone who has worth and value and we need to avoid devaluing people simply because we disagree with them. I hope and pray that God will be glorified as we struggle through these difficult conversations.

Be blessed,

Bryan

“Don’t dare to be different, dare to be yourself – if that doesn’t make you different then something is wrong.” ― Laura Baker

I find myself at a place where I am thankful for my disability, but that hasn’t always been the case. In my younger days I hated it. I had days where I hated God for making me different. I felt ignored, outcast, and unwelcome all because I was in a wheelchair. But the older I get the more I realize people’s reasoning behind their standoffish behavior. People were afraid of addressing the elephant in the room. It wasn’t until I realized such motives for peoples behaviors that my attitude began to change. I then wanted to be a part of the solution and not the problem. The fact that I had negative emotions about my disability further caused people to not want to address it. But that’s what needed to happen all along. Once I became comfortable with who I was I was able to have no problem talking about my disability, and once I started talking about it then I saw people start to be at ease and more friendly towards me. Yes, I have a disability. It’s a part of who I am and it will be for the rest of my life. But it’s a part of me not all of who I am, and that is the case with everyone with disabilities. A disability shouldn’t define a person, just like being tall or short, having blue eyes or brown eyes, should not define someone as a person. People with disabilities have the same aspirations that everyone else has. Many people with disabilities want things such as a spouse, a family of their own, and a job in a career field they love and are passionate about. People with disabilities have hobbies they enjoy, beliefs they feel strongly about, and life experiences not influenced by their disability that have shaped them. But you won’t know these things unless you ask. And if you’re a person with a disability others will be more friendly if you’re comfortable in your own skin. So be you and don’t be ashamed of who you are. God made you with a purpose and you are perfect to Him.